Sep 9, 2016
A Simple System
Melissa Moore Seal

There are no computers, tablets, printouts floating around, or “workouts of the day” written on a whiteboard. There is only the steady hum of athletes going from rack to rack and the satisfying sound of bumper plates hitting the platforms after a successful snatch or clean. This is a snapshot of the Hatch System in action, a long-standing but still effective method of training.

Utilizing Olympic lifts and their derivatives, the Hatch System is a method of explosive training originally created for competitive weightlifting but that has become embraced for ground-based sports. It relies on Olympic movements because they involve full-body work and power production, which translate well to the field and court. As creator Coach Gayle Hatch has said, “Pure strength that can’t be converted to athletic strength is of no use to an athlete.”

Passed along to many protégés over the course of his 50-year career, the Hatch System continues to be of great use to athletes today. Teams from high schools all the way up to the professional ranks have employed it, with its success building explosive athletes at every level.

All that is needed to train using the Hatch System is a barbell and a set of bumper plates. But the simple setup gives way to a difficult routine. Each exercise is physically taxing, and the majority of the lifts occur at or above 75 percent of a player’s one-rep maximum. The challenging nature of the system is the main reason for its success with building explosive athletes.

The Hatch System is built around a group of exercises known as the Hatch 10. They include the back squat, front squat, clean, clean pull, split jerk, snatch, snatch pull, 3&3, bench press, and incline bench press, with assistant exercises to complement these core lifts. The Hatch 10 exercises were selected for very specific reasons. First, most of these movements require explosive acceleration with the bar, which is essential for increasing the triple extension needed while running and jumping. In addition, each lift helps improve an athlete’s proprioception, stability, speed of movement, and functional flexibility. Because every exercise works the whole body in multiple ways, athletes get the most bang for their buck.

Back Squat: When teaching the Hatch System, strength coaches should begin with the back squat, which Coach Hatch considers the “king of all exercises.” It is the fundamental position for weightlifting and the most essential strength-building movement.

Front Squat: After the athlete is comfortable with the back squat, the strength coach can progress to the front squat. This movement adds variety to lower-body training and develops the strength and balance necessary for the receiving position of the clean, which is taught later.

Olympic Lifts: Once proficient in the back and front squat, the athlete is ready to transition into the Olympic lifts. Coach Hatch recommends using a holistic instructional method with cleans and snatches by teaching the lifts as complete movements starting from the floor rather than in parts.

While breaking the exercises into parts may be easier for the athlete to digest in the short term, it can create problems down the road when melding the individual pieces into a comprehensive lift. For example, an athlete who learns the hang clean before the power clean may develop a hitch in their transition between the first and second pulls of a full clean. Though it may take more time and energy to teach a complicated lift as a whole, the payoff is a more smooth and coordinated clean or snatch overall.

The training sequence for the clean should start with the clean pull, then the power clean, and progress to the full clean while receiving the bar in a deep squat. The sequence for teaching the snatch follows a similar trajectory: start with the snatch pull and then go over the power snatch and overhead squat. The last step is to train the athlete how to complete the full snatch and receive the bar in a deep squat.

The split jerk is taught between the clean and snatch. Begin by showing the athlete the footwork for the jerk before incorporating the arm movement. When doing this exercise, the lifter should utilize the momentum generated by the triple extension to push the bar overhead–not rely on their arm or shoulder strength. Once they have the timing and movement correct, the full clean and jerk can be taught.

The 3&3, bench press, and incline press exercises round out the Hatch 10. The 3&3 consists of three behind-the-neck snatch grip presses followed by three overhead squats. Some strength coaches shy away from behind-the-neck pressing, but with proper technique and appropriate loads, it is an excellent tool for strengthening the posterior shoulder and core. In addition, the overhead squat portion of this exercise can lead to improved snatches by strengthening the receiving position. The bench press and incline bench press are not greatly emphasized in the Hatch System because they aren’t considered athletic movements, but they can be valuable in improving anterior upper body strength.

Secondary exercises: Supplementing the Hatch 10 are a variety of secondary or assistant exercises that complement the core lifts. They serve to add variety to the program, hone in on difficult aspects of the Hatch 10, or provide a unilateral way to train the body. And because the assistant exercises do not have to be combined in any particular order to be effective, they allow the strength coach flexibility in creating a training regimen.

The three-position clean and three-position snatch supplement the clean and snatch of the Hatch 10. These exercises improve jump-shrug technique and the transition between the first and second pulls. Here is the progression for the three-position clean and snatch:

1. Hang clean or snatch from the upper thigh

2. Hang clean or snatch from below the knee

3. Power clean or snatch from the floor.

Power snatches and power cleans are also important assistant exercises for this grouping because they specifically work the triple extension. Since these lifts require the athlete to receive the bar in a higher position than the traditional clean or snatch, the bar needs to be pulled to a greater height.

To add variety to the split jerk, Coach Hatch utilizes the behind-the-neck split jerk as an assistant exercise. This movement activates the posterior stabilizers of the shoulder more than regular split jerks and causes the athlete to apply force directly upward from their spine.

Assistant exercises used to augment upper-body work are bent-over rows and dumbbell presses (bench press or shoulder press, simultaneous or alternating). The row can improve athletes’ posterior upper-body strength, while the dumbbell press can develop unilateral chest and shoulder strength and stability.

Step-ups and split squats serve as the assistant exercises tasked with developing unilateral leg strength and stability in the Hatch System. For maximum results, step-ups should be performed at heavy percentages on reinforced boxes, while split squats should be done in a lunge stance with an elevated back leg.

To specifically develop posterior chain strength, improve hip hinge action, and increase hamstring flexibility–all crucial components for building explosiveness–the Hatch System incorporates Romanian dead lifts, good-mornings, and glute-ham raises. Both Romanian dead lifts and good-mornings should be performed with a straight back and legs. The bar should be kept close to the body when deadlifting and placed on the trapezius for good-mornings.

In next week’s edition of High School Athlete Performance, Coach Moore Seal will explain how she develops a year-long program utilizing the Hatch System. The article is now posted here.

Melissa Moore Seal, MS, is Associate Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Louisiana State University, where she is responsible for training the women's basketball and softball teams. During her time at LSU, she has helped those squads reach two Final Fours and one Women's College World Series.

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